Excavators at Vindolanda Fort, a Roman fort near the border with Scotland just south of Hadrian’ Wall, thought it was just going to be a rampart mound near the north gate.
What they were digging up, however, turned out to be a 1.5 ton altar to the god Jupiter.
“There is a substantial and exceptionally well preserved altar dedicated by a prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls to an important eastern god, Jupiter of Doliche.”
The inscription reads: “To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, Sulpicius Pudens, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, fulfilled his vow gladly and deservedly.” [...]
Mr Birley said: “Major altars like this are very rare finds and to discover such a shrine inside the fort is highly unusual.
“The shrine also has evidence of animal sacrifice and possible religious feasting.”
Jupiter of Doliche (an ancient city in southern Turkey thought to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world) is represented riding a bull while holding a battle axe in one hand and a thunderbolt in the other. The other side depicts a jar and a shallow dish.
Shortly thereafter excavators uncovered a second altar in the shrine, this one dedicated by a prefect of the Second Cohort of Nervians. Only the bottom part of it remains, however, so there are no pretteh carvings.
Both the Fourth Cohort of Gauls and Second Cohort of Nervians served in Vindolanda, Epiacum to them, in the third century AD.
Vindolanda is no stranger to major finds about Roman life on the Wall, most famous among them are the wooden tablets of correspondence from soldiers, merchants, slaves, women living at the fort and its adjoining town in the first couple of centuries after Christ.